Saying “No” Can Make You a Better Friend

By: Kate Fallon

In discussing healthy relationships, we’ve talked about how to be an effective communicator and make those we love know that they are important to us. It is so crucial to carve out time for people that matter to us and fully focus on them when we’re together; however, one thing we haven’t addressed is that its near impossible to do this successfully without creating boundaries and making time for ourselves. I got to thinking about this the other day, when one of my friends came over saying she felt like she had been stuck in a rut all day. To be a good friend she had felt the need to make time for all of the things that her friends wanted to do that day, but she was also pressed for time with her own to-do list and was afraid she had come off as impatient to her friends.

The conversation made me think of when I first started seeing a therapist junior year of high school. I was ready to dig deep into my psyche, assess every little bad dream, and fight off my childhood demons to conquer my anxiety. To my surprise, my shrink wanted to focus on how I took care of myself for the first few weeks of therapy. My self-care, she said, dictated everything else in my life. By spreading myself too thinly and always neglecting to put my needs first, I had become too anxious/tired/stressed/ overwhelmed (read: too much of a hot mess) to be present and invested in the moments when people really needed me or I most wanted to enjoy and remember.

 This unhealthy habit of becoming a real life Jim Carrey “Yes Man” is something many of us deal with or have dealt with in the past, and it has a toxic effect on personal success, mental health, and the quality of our relationships. So what can we do about it? According to Forbes Magazine, like all other habits, it takes time and effort to learn how to turn people down, but if we can bite the bullet and get ourselves to say no even just once we are, “…strengthening [the] muscle to create boundaries and making it easier to say “no” in the future” (2). Sometimes the easiest way to evaluate whether or not there is actually time and energy to do something for a friend is to delay giving them an answer. Something as simple as “I would love to, let me see if I have enough of my homework done” provides the short amount of time necessary to not only figure out if we want to/can help out, but also figure out a tactful way of saying no.

The bottom line is that the boundaries protecting the time we need to take care of ourselves and accomplish all of our own goals are central to good self-care and therefore our mental health. Saying yes to every single favor and outing might make us feel like we’re being good friends in the moment, but in actuality it leaves us spread too thin to be present and fully engaged in anything we do. In other words, it makes us high quantity but low quality achievers.


More tips on saying no: